Tom Howse: Fantastic Salad

As the recent graduate mixes llamas and top hats in his new expo, we discuss co-pilots, heroes and villains and why his fish look weird

Tom Howse - The Tower

Whether it’s a solitary red house, a blue prince on a llama, or a friendly trout, Wimbledon Collage of Art graduate Tom Howse’s paintings are each embedded with a single narrative that ‘the viewer is forced to confront’. In these imaginariums of feeling and playful interpretation, Howse’s ‘Fantastic Salad’ – a title inspired by the 1972 animated film ‘Fantastic Planet’ by René Laloux – is his first exhibit of 2012, now open to the public at Herefordshire’s ‘Down Stairs’ gallery.

In some of my paintings though I like thinking about who the figures could be and I like building up character profiles for them

The artist-run gallery, situated at Great Brampton House in Madley, will showcase the works alongside ‘Fantastic Planet’ through till March. Dazed talked to Tom about making it on his own after University, making sense of his work, and looking to the future.

Dazed Digital: What has it been like since graduating? Was it quite daunting going out alone as an artist?
Tom Howse:
No, not all, in fact it’s been amazing, I'm so excited about my work right now. I graduated from Wimbledon College of Art last year and it was amazing, Wimbledon was fantastic and I had the best time. But I was so ready to leave by the time of my degree show and I put that down to the quality of the course, I would have been worried if I hadn't been as eager to finish as I was.

But I share my studio with some top lads, and we have regular discussions about art and our work; it works a bit like having co-pilots, and I think it would be harder to continue if I didn't have that frequent analysis which is prevalent in college. A lot of time when I'm in the studio I'll be annoyed with my paintings but then a co-pilot might spot something in the work which I've not thought about, we'll have a good, good painting chat, and then your eyes are opened to something new.

DD: Do any of your paintings represent people in your life?
Tom Howse:
I've tried to consider this question before and never been able to conclude it. I wouldn't say they were, not on purpose anyway. In some of my paintings though I like thinking about who the figures could be and I like building up character profiles for them. Some of them kind of embody less of the characters in my life, and more so the characters I'd want in my life, like moulding your own team. If I want my own heroes or villains I can try and paint them

DD: Do you feel your paintings ever fully make sense of your thoughts or ideas?
Tom Howse:
No, not the good ones anyway. I think one of the problems with unsuccessful paintings of mine is that they sometimes come out too straightforward, too easily concluded. If I paint a picture of a fish and it just looks like a fish then there's no point. I want that fish to have or be something else as well, and I never really know what that something else is until I see it. Which makes it kind of hard to know what to do, but that's what's so exciting about it.

I want all my paintings to appear to me as though they have come to fruition through my guidance, but that they've then taken their own initiative too and mutated or taken on something else of their own accord. That's when I don't understand them because they've done something of their own, something which I didn't expect, that's when they're confusing, and that's when I like them best. Times when I can't stop thinking about a painting and keep wanting to go back and look at it, that's the best feeling.

DD: Are there any particular aspects of life that you spend more of your time attempting to depict or explain?
Tom Howse:
I think it ebbs and flows, for the last year I've been pretty fixated on painting big heads but this is now starting to shift into something else, and I don't really know where that leaves me. But, essentially, I don't think I've been making work for a long enough time to really say what the crux of my practice is. When I was still at university, my work would be completely different from one week to the next, gradually this rapid exploration from one idea to the next has been slowing down.

University was the embryonic development of my practice, I'm still fresh from the womb and in my mind it’s only now that it's just beginning. I look forward to being able to look back at my practice ten, twenty years from now and I think only then will the true correlations and themes really begin to materialise.

Tom Howse, Fantastic Salad, Down Stairs, Great Brampton House, Madley, Hereford, Herefordshire, HR2 9NA, from January 28, 2012

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